Undetected asteroid explodes over Russia

Impact highlights gaps in ability to detect some potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects.

Just days after NASA announced a 10-year plan to improve its capability to track potentially hazardous asteroids, an undetected asteroid exploded over Russia.

No injuries or damages were reported from the impact, which occurred on Thursday, June 21 at 1:15 Universal Time (UT) or 4:15 AM local time. Estimated to have been 13 feet (four meters) in diameter, the asteroid exploded in a fireball over the Russian city of Lipetsk southeast of Moscow.

Accompanied by a loud sonic boom, the fireball was seen by residents of the Russian cities of Kursk, Voronzeh, and Orel. It exploded around 16.7 miles (27 km) above Earth’s surface.

Traveling at an estimated 32,200 miles  per hour (52,000 km per hour), the asteroid was estimated to have the energy of 2.8 kilotons of TNT, much less than that of the one that impacted Chelyabinsk in February 2013, which was estimated to have had the power of 440 kilotons of TNT and injured close to 1,500 people.

Nine stations run by the International Meteor Organization (IMO), an international non-profit group of amateur meteor observers, detected the fireball produced by the asteroid, as did several weather satellites and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

A local observer caught the explosion on video and uploaded the footage online.

Last week, NASA reported its detection systems do not always find asteroids coming towards Earth from its “day side.”

An 18-page report released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy this month outlines a 10-year plan to protect the planet from impacts by boosting tracking capabilities, enabling earlier detection of potential impactors.  Improved technology described in the report will help scientists more accurately predict the likelihood of particular asteroids hitting the Earth.

According to NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson, scientists have detected 95 percent of all potentially hazardous asteroids and comets with diameters of two-thirds of a mile (one km) or larger.

All asteroids and comets orbiting within 30 million miles of Earth are considered Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

The remaining five percent of asteroids that remain undetected, as well as smaller ones, could still pose significant threats to the planet.

Titled “The National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan,” the report establishes five goals, including better detection and tracking methods, improved computer modeling, development of deflection technologies, more international cooperation on the issue, and establishing emergency procedures should a threat be discovered.

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